Good evening from the Major who writes from a cold, violent Worcestershire scene where waves of weather slam into the side of the Cotswold stone house in which my hosts have made comfort the default.
Waves of weather are slamming against the house, rolling off the hills, momentum raising the speed and the noise. At crescendo, there is an alarming amount of noise. I understand Newbury is likely to make it in the morning but through the Atlantic washing machine I am in, I do not quite know how.
Something happened this week which surprised me and bought a smile to my face. The Major commutes to work through some back lanes and slipping in to the services on the M5 at Strensham. The countryside here is excellent, fields gently roll down in polite contours to brooks which themselves operate at sedate paces. The serenity underestimates the potential mind and right now, those watercourses have spilled over, defying convention and flooding the land. Some fields are submerged in what I would describe as an ocean. I use that word not because of volume but because the dirt brown water looks deep, even it you know it not to be and in high wind, the top whips up, froths and moves – It fools the mind.
Anyway, you have seen enough images of Somerset under water and so I shall not labour the beauty, excitement, destruction and desperation of the scenes in Worcestershire.
However, I do want to relate the relationship I have with a homeless man. Firstly, I am speculating that he is indeed a tramp. Each morning, I see him walking up the lane from the direction of the services, heading north. Each morning, I know he walks miles, I do not where he goes or why but he carries on his back a large backpack. He is unshaven. I believe he must sleep at the services each night. In fact, it can be a reliable indicator of whether I am late or early to the office at which point I pass him!
The Major has some experience with the homeless this as I volunteer at a charity in Worcester from time to time. I was prompted to do this after listening to the Bishop of Birmingham speak on the radio at Christmas two years ago. At the time I was queuing to access Merry Hill (or Merry Hell as the good lady calls it) shopping centre, surrounded by the salacious consumerism, you may well think I was ripe to listen to an alternate voice. That is what the good bishop provided. He described his schedule over the Christmas period and it was a non-stop agenda of good deeds. When asked by the shows host what drove him, he replied that most people amble through each day without appreciating the proximity to slipping into such circumstances. A failed marriage, a lost job, three missed mortgage payments – The journey is shorter than we may like to think.
It inspired me well enough and in that crucial observation I have to say that I find him quite correct. When serving up dinner, most faces have etched into them the travails of their history, some bright red, betraying a casual approach to substance abuse. These are not shocking though, more expected, no, the truly terrifying are those men that would not look out-of-place in any other scene you might set – You wonder why – They are like you and I, it breaks you from routine.
Anyway, my lane walking vagrant has always regarded me sternly, stopping his walking to stare at the car as I pass. No flicker of pleasantry crosses his face, I suspect if I stopped, a few short words might be possible but that he would return to his haunched walk in as short an order as possible. His choices indicate his reluctance for conversation.
Anyway, this week, we made some progress. As I always do, as I saw his lonely figure emerge in the distance I slowed down, far more than is required as a sign of politeness and to respect the longevity of our relationship. As I charted my wide berth, again with the focus being on over emphasis, he nodded at me. The first time he has ever acknowledged me. Years have passed, hundreds of encounters, this week we made the breakthrough.
That made me smile for a long time. A genuine well-earned smile.
Anyway, to the sports and a mud splattered Newbury where a cracking card awaits.
Newbury may well be a flat track but it will take some getting today – The fences are traditionally challenging and that log straight will break some wills, of that you can be sure. We are after horses that enjoy swimming and are as tough as boots.
In the 1.50, I give a squeak to 25/1 shot Virginia Ash. Yes, you have to suspect that the race won last time was the target (had one it in a previous year) and that this new mark and tougher company are significant obstacles… However, there are items on the positive side of the ledger too, significantly that the horses loves the mud.
No, my selection is 9/2 shot Andy Kelly – Emma Lavelle does not have a great Newbury record but this horse could enhance it for her. Never raced on heavy but his style and the form completed on soft suggest it will not be a hindrance. I like these improvers in such handicappers.
All of the horses in the Denman have won on heavy before so we should have a competitive race. If Harry Topper wins any race, he will not carry the Majors money… He has some ability but can be too casual at fences. No, this is a decision between Al Ferof and Katenko. Connections of the former are suggesting he will better for the run and that Cheltenham is their main goal. Regardless of that if Al Ferof is a potential Gold Cup horse then he has to win this and I think he will. Katenko had previously looked like a top horse when giving a beating to Benefficient – Yet I remain unconvinced.
In the Game Spirit at 3pm I am a huge supporter of the 6/4 favourite, Dodging Bullets. My 5 year old son calls him Dodgy Bullets which is enough to make you grin and young Matthew shall be with me as we watch this Nicholls novice strut his stuff – He is morphing into a much better chaser than hurdler. I may be surprised but I think the price on Module is all wrong – I would be shocked if he won this and so am betting with conviction on my selection, at pace. Load the cannons.
The Betfair looks a cracker and while it is 7/1 the field, history points us towards those near the top of the market. There is a strong stat supporting the younger horses too but am taking that on with my selection, Cheltenian at 10/1. Trends are only useful if they can be supported in a story. The fact that younger horses do well here is because of their improving nature, this is a top valuable handicap and the best yards send their up and comers. Thus, the younger horse, with class and being ahead of the handicapper is a logical profile to follow. Yet, my horse can buck the age trend because he is unexposed even at the age of 8. He is a champion bumper winner and if back to fitness may well prove the best of these. The task is hard – Irish Saint, Dell Arca, Rolling Star – They will all be queuing up to have a pop.
Noel Fehily likes the bumper favourite Thomas Brown 2/1 – That is enough for me too.
The Kingmaker is the big race on the Warwick card and it looks a cracker. I am planning a strong bet on Brick Red at 3/1. I suspect the favourite needs better ground than this and… as is well reported, Williams trains heavy ground chasers to perfection!
I am also having a slice of Royal Player at 15/8 in the bumper.
In the football, Sunderland at 5/4 Walsall at 11/10 and Wigan at 6/4. The latter has been a weakness of mine but I stand committed to the line.
The Martin Hill Saturday bet is Brick Red, Thomas Brown and Dodging Bullets in a powerful trixie.
May your dinner be taken in raucous fine company, good steak, nice wine, laughter is the best medicine. Keep good company my friends.
Courage and roll those dice.